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By Jill Badonsky, MEd | Updated February 17, 2019
"One cannot but feel sympathy and even admiration for Hemingway in his lifelong struggle against crippling emotional shocks and scars, and be sustained and uplifted by the fact that out of that struggle, he created some of the most beautifully and powerfully written stories and novels of our time." —Literature Online
Oh, the energy we use in this society to suppress what we perceive to be our undesirable traits — our negativity, judgmental nature, and our other secret peculiarities and struggles. Often we do not even allow our shadow side into our own consciousness but others can often see it. People who passionately irk us are usually mirroring our own shadows back to us, though ours may surface with a different rendition that we do not recognize. In this exercise we not only deny our humanity but we also disable a potent creativity feature — sublimation.
The phrase "I cannot afford the luxury of a negative thought" goes against our inherent make-up as people. The Secret is driving people batty who are trying to stop themselves from manifesting negative things in their lives by stopping negative thoughts. It is like forcing yourself not to listen to the horn section in a song that has a horn section in addition to strings, percussion and a triangle. And then they beat themselves up for having a negative thought and then they beat themselves up for beating themselves up. So you see what a waste of energy it is to try and stop negative thoughts especially when both the energy we use and the thoughts themselves have so much potential for creativity.
We do not need to attach ourselves to and act out the negative thoughts we have. We can just non-judgmentally acknowledge: "Hmm, interesting, there's another one of those negative thoughts, I'm so wonderfully human! But I think I'll replace it with one that serves me better." This takes away that whole "what you resist persists" thing. Plus, part of flourishing creatively is generating lots of possibilities in thought and action — creative problem solving can become the magic doorway to a vibrantly content existence. We can reinvent ourselves as flexible, easy going, resourceful humans by practicing new thoughts just 15 seconds at a time regularly.
"Conflict … that's where we find art." —Garrison Keillor
But back for a minute to the dark world. The shadow side of a mortal provides an incredible amount of creative energy. Anger, jealousy, revenge, frustration, sadness, rejection have been conduits for so many triumphant works of writing, art, music and performance. The energy of anger and envy can also fuel constructive action and motivation. The fine line between madness and creativity attests to how our dark individuality can be exalted by giving it a creative expression that can move those who come in contact with it through the provision of a channel of compassion, validation and transcendence.
So I could go way beyond my word count allotment talking about this fascinating subject (and I do in my Shadow chapter of my book). But what applicable piece of information can I give you in this space to help you on your creative journey? I don't know, I'm just feeling selfish today so maybe I won't give any.. ha ha ha ha. Down shadow side, down! Interesting.
As a creativity coach, when I notice that someone is expending a lot of energy in resentment, fear or anger — I summon up Shadow Muse exercises (there's a whole bunch in my book). Giving ourselves permission to stop suppressing what we have been taught are unpleasant thoughts and allowing them some Emotional Drain-o time on the page can free up energy we need in order to persevere in our creative passion. The process of plugging in to our shadow can also add interest to our work.
The UNSENT letter is simple but powerful — write an uncensored letter to anyone or anything you are negatively obsessing about or which has hampered your progress in any form… and then burn it. Be thankful for whatever gift that thing or person rendered for you and then move on.
The Resentment list is also powerful. In full throttle, unfettered form write a list of everything you resent from having to constantly clean the kitchen floor to a partner who won't let you have solitude… just on the page. At the end do not forget to write: I now release these resentments and make space for something better. Of course, all the resentment will not be gone, but a layer of its power over you will be.
Most of all, be your wonderful, imperfect, authentically human self — you will be surprised how much more appreciation you will be paid by other humans.
"It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters." —Stephen King
By Molly Anderson-Childers
Q: How did The Shadow Muse first take form? When did the other Modern Day Muses realize they needed someone to balance the energy of Bea Silly, Albert, and the like?
A: The Modern Day Muses were almost finished coming up with the upgraded versions of the original nine Greek Muses. They were on number eight. They wanted the next Muse to have a little depth — some intrigue — be a bit mysterious. They thought and they thought. Then the Muses started to get a little crazy and sinister. The side of each of them that is naughty and not-so-much-nice started to appear. They rather became controlling, intolerant, and one of them started spitting. Personality blemishes broke out in complaining, whining, and not making sense; they slipped into revenge, vindictativeness, and punishment. And in the midst of the darkness, they noticed the creative brilliance that's possible when our slips are showing. Hence, I, the Shadow Muse came into being. [maniacal laughter].
Q: Some find the darkness scary — I find it beautiful, mysterious, and intriguing. What are some of the gifts and treasures only found in the shadows?
A: Paul Simon said, "My words trickle down from a wound I have no intention to heal."
The dark sides of personalities are always present, just as light invariably casts a shadow. When the light is brightest, the shadow is deepest. When mortals explore their hidden shadow side, there is a power, a liberating freedom, and a creative release. They no longer need to use their creative energy to keep the undesirable aspects of their personalities hidden — they can sublimate it into art and a depth of understanding for the human condition.
Many mortals are exhausted because they expend so much effort trying to be someone they are not. The willingness to be authentic creates a momentum that is fueled by self-acceptance versus an avoidance of the self from self-alienation. The mechanism we use to suppress our anger and sadness, also suppresses joy and delight. Freeing up the circuitry of both is akin to engaging a creative fire starter. Shaun McNiff said, "Creative expression requires an ability to work with feelings and channel them. Frustration, dissatisfaction, and even a sense of desperation may help you access an eloquence you never knew existed."
Q: Are there any dangers inherent in dancing with the dark side of creativity? Is it possible to become trapped in the shadow-lands?
A: It IS possible to get stuck in the negativity your shadow side sometimes brings up for you.
Mortals do best when they simply accept their shadow side as a part of being human and use it for creative expression and the cultivation of compassion. They get caught up in shadow-lands when they continuously focus on regrets, anger, resentment, sadness, fears, and the injustices of the world, expanding their power, and living life based on defensiveness, fear, and judgment. Lose that strategy and visit your shadow in the interest of understanding and accepting yourself. Or tap into this mortal vulnerability for sensitivities that can be alchemized into song, paintings, performance, verse and beauty. Make your home-base the lighter aspects of yourselves where you are better able to engage in your higher creative call.
Q: How can you help mortals to embrace the shadowy side of their creative world? What are some of the ways mortals can call you up when in need of something a little darker to flavor the creative brew?
A: Call upon me when you want to explore the potential of creativity contained within the dark side of your personality, when you are prone to dark moods, pain, and sensitivities that you would like to metabolize into poignant self-expression, and when you are curious about the fine line between creativity and madness. There are many exercises in the Modern Day Muse book to help you plug into the creativity your shadow energy. Start by continuing quickly and without much analysis or censorship, the unfinished sentence: In my shadow, I find…
Q: Please talk a little about the ability of creative work to help one navigate the darkest hours of the soul's night. How can our stories and songs ultimately save us?
A: You connect with your collective humanity and the range of states and feelings experienced as a mortal through the experience of story and songs. The connection is at once healing and inspirational.
Accessing your emotions at times other than a crisis can also be a doorway to creative expression. Creative people have a reputation for having an increased sensitivity to experiences and a heightened awareness of sensory stimuli. Sensitivity opens us up to deeper feelings from the sights, sounds, and movements around us. The observation of a cloud, the cacophony of automobile engines, or a simple grimace liberates metaphors, emotions, poetry, or song from within. Staying on the surface of emotion may be socially more adaptable, but it keeps us from tapping into and siphoning out the art that can touch and transform others and ourselves. If you are open to the sensitivity of your human nature, it can become a channel through which heartfelt expression flows. Rich voices of deeper feelings weave the common threads of our humanity into the divination of a healing tapestry. Art is exalted.
Q: I'm interested in the ways that we balance upon the fine line between madness and genius. How can you stay sane while courting creative madness, expressing your zany inner genius, and navigating the dark side? In other words, any tips for us mortals wanting to write like Hemingway, rather than just drinking like him?
A: Creativity can often feel like madness because what we conceive creatively has not yet been processed by our rational minds or met with acceptance by others. Creative energy may come from parts of us that remain unexposed, and we may wonder if it is revealing something about ourselves that we should not be showing. If we expand our definition of acceptable and give ourselves license to create without judgment, we reach a liberated release. We all have a little bit of madness in us, in terms of idiosyncrasies, quirks, preferences, and neuroses. These hidden parts of us contain a great deal of passion because of the energy it takes to suppress them. When giving voice without censorship or modification, we are capable of original expressions that excite and provoke.
Q: What's your favorite way to relax and lighten up a little?
A: Standing in the corner with an uninhibited artist at their exhibit and hissing at people as they walk by.
Q: When you have a bad day, is it really a good day, since you're the Shadow Muse?
A: Yes. Many people find that creative release comes easier in times of poignant emotion: after a romantic breakup, a loss, during moments of anger or confusion. All of a sudden, words and images flow, or expressing one's pain is simply easier. Sorrow and anger lay dormant much of the time, so when unexpected hard times break through the defenses, the emotions sometimes spill forth in beautiful words, visions, music, feelings, and insights. Alan DeNiro said, "Fall in love, then have a breakup. Plenty of writing material there."
Q: What is the single most important thing mortals need to know when navigating the shadows that lurk within their hearts?
A: Be kind to yourself.
©2001-2009 Jill Badonsky. All rights reserved.
Next Muse: Spills: The Beauty of ImperFection
Jill Badonsky is a creativity coaching pioneer, inspirational humorist, artist, and founder of the Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching™ model. ...
This creativity inspiring series is based on Jill Badonsky's The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard).
Learn about the history of the Modern Day Muses in Another Fine Myth and each one individually through articles, interviews, and profiles: Aha-phrodite | Albert | Audacity | Bea Silly | Lull | Marge | Song | Shadow | Spills | Arnold (the Bodyguard) | Bonus Extras
Gifts of the dark side
MEANING OF NAME
The dark side of our personality
Releasing all repressed and hidden parts of ourselves to deepen creativity.
THE SELECTION OF SHADOW
The Muses were almost finished coming up with the who and what of their Modern day prototypes. They wanted the next Muse to have a little depth — some intrigue — be a bit mysterious. And they thought and they thought.
And the Muses started to get cranky. The side of each of them that is not very nice started to appear. There was the excessive Muse meddling, moralizing, and moderately moronic behavior. They became controlling, intolerant and one of them started spitting. They did not take this turn of events lightly, so, once again, they took the hint. "If we can't take this lightly let's take it darkly." Their next Muse was the inspiration for unveiling the shadow side of mortals.
Shedding light on our darkest qualities releases the energy of creativity. Honoring all the aspects of that which we are, rewards us with compassion, and insight. Revel in your rarities. Release the restraint of your insecure ego. Find art and freedom in your Shadow.